Inside the Mind of a Future Thru Hiker: Why I’m Insane Enough to Hike the AT

Often when I tell people I plan on hiking the AT, the reactions that I get are some variation of “*jaw drops* whaaaat?! You’re crazy! That’s awesome!” This is typically followed by a bombardment of questions, the biggest of all being,¬†“Why?” While I love shrugging and saying “why not” and seeing the reactions to that, here I will attempt to *seriously* answer that pesky question in as much depth as I can.

Reason 1:

I want to see the world, or as much of it as I can. If I never left New England I feel like I would have wasted my time sticking with the same old thing. The AT provides a unique way to see new places and meet new people, and if you ask anyone that I hike with, I don’t shut up about everything I’m excited to experience. Bring on the adventure!

Reason 2:

Simply because I can. I am able bodied and I have a window of time where I’m not tied down by a career or a home or a family. I’ll be damned if I don’t seize this chance and make the absolute most of it that I can. I’m surrounded by people that don’t have the same luxury because they’re focused on other aspects of their lives. Some of them wish they were going with me and can’t. Believe me, I know what it’s like to want something I can’t have. The experience of hiking the AT is not going to become just another one of those things I wish I had done.

Reason 3:

I’m f*cking terrified. That’s right, scared shitless, petrified, shaking at the knees, spooked, horror-stricken, however you want to say it. Being out in the woods ALONE at night actually scares the crap outta me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the outdoors and nature and whatnot. However, it is for that very reason that I want to do this, and do it solo. Honestly, the “alone” part is what scares me more than anything. All my life I’ve had someone else I can depend on when things get tough. Parents, friends, boyfriends, etc. I want to be able to depend on just me. I want the trail to teach me that the only one I need to get me through tough times is me, because that’s all I’ll have out there. I am (hopefully) going to conquer my fears and even enjoy doing it along the way. Oh did I mention I’m also petrified of snakes? I hear there’s some big ones down south. Bring ’em on.

Quite possibly the most terrifying night of my life, my first solo overnight.

Reason 4:

Anyone that knows me knows I love a good challenge. All anyone has to say to me to get something done is “I bet you can’t” and then it’s game on, challenge accepted, let’s go. For example, this weekend I did my third Tough Mudder. Normally I stick with a slow moving group of my friends, but this time I thought, “you know what I think I’ll challenge myself.” I ended up running the full course (11ish miles, 20+ obstacles) in under two hours and was the first woman to finish that day. I started about 15 minutes after the second woman to finish did. Maybe it’s a distance runner thing, but I’m wicked stubborn and I never do anything halfway. The AT is my next big challenge and I am itching to see how much I can accomplish out there.

Coach once said I wouldn’t do well at steeple. Watch me fly now.

So there you have it! Among the multitudes of questions my friends and family have buried me under, here’s the answer(s) to what I felt was the most important one of them all. When I’m out on the trail, I’ll probably be asking myself the same thing, several times a day.

So now you’re young, and you feel alone

Despite friends, family, and all the good things now surrounding you,

You can’t help thinking “Oh there’s gotta be some more to do”

When all the things that you cherish

Turn into burdens then there is

No other path to take,

You know what you’ve gotta do but you don’t know how.

They’ll hold you back, they’ll hold you down

And you kinda feel bad but you know that you’ve gotta get out.

This is your pain your dilemma,

Do you stay in the town where they raised ya?

Or do you sail away,

Pull the anchor and go heading for the come what may?

You have to leave,

Because if you don’t dear,

You’ll never see the things you read about in books,

You saw the films and you were hooked.

But everything you want won’t come to you,

You realize now that you’ve gotta go see this through

-Toh Kay “If Only for Memories”

That face you make when you realize you’re about to be a legit adult.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Queries? Quibbles? ¬†Leave a comment, or shoot me an email at [email protected], I’d love to hear from you!

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Comments 8

  • Linda Vance : Aug 16th

    In the 90s, I worked as a wilderness ranger in Colorado, alone the first couple of years, in some crazy remote places. I got over being afraid of bears and snakes after the first couple I encountered were more scared of me than I was of them, but every night, I’d pitch my tent as close to other humans as I possibly could, if there were any, or, when there weren’t (most of the time), in a clearing. The woods just plain creeped me out, despite having grown up in the East, and having spent plenty of nights alone in shelters on the Long Trail. What I was most afraid of was waking up from a bad nightmare in the middle of the night in a place that offered no comfort at all: no light to turn on, no kitchen where I could make a cup of camomile tea, no radio station I could tune into for some comforting voices. It took three summers before it finally happened (why I was anxious eludes me; I have never been prone to nightmares). I woke up from a someone-is-killing-me dream at 2 a.m., right below the ridge of the Continental Divide, shaking, sweating and alone. I crawled out from my Megamid, having no idea what to do, and was instantly captured and mesmerized by the stars, so many stars, in a full 360 arc around my camp. And the chorus. Down in the Rio Grande valley, a pack of coyotes was howling, with the shepherd’s dogs yipping at the pack. On the San Juan side, sheep were murmuring uneasily. In the far distance, rocks were skipping down the mountain sides. I could hear fish jumping in Emerald Lake, just behind me. The whole thing, bathed in the star-lit darkness, was so goddamn serene I couldn’t help but laugh. And then, calmed completely, I went back to sleep. What I had really been afraid of was the fear, and in the welcoming and enveloping night, the fear was a wispy thing after all.

    Reply
    • Erica Notini : Aug 17th

      Very well written Linda, thank you for sharing! I think that might be one of those things I will have to experience for myself, but when it happens I’ll be sure to remember you.

      Reply
  • Jonathan Boyd : Aug 17th

    The challenge is nice, but don’t get bogged down in that. The AT is a big, weird, outrageous vacation. Make sure you take the time to enjoy it too.

    Multi (SOBO ’14, prepping for NOBO ’17)

    Reply
    • Erica Notini : Aug 17th

      Thanks John! Hope to see you out there

      Reply
  • Dan Grimes : Aug 17th

    Hi, I feel the same. I coached track for 30 years, and since I was 9 I told my friends that I would walk the AT if I could sleep in a Holiday Inn every night. I am a couple months from my 70th birthday and I have told everyone that in 2018 on April 1st I will begin my AT hike. I have never slept outdoors in my life and will have my 11 yearold grandson show me how this fall. I always told my athletes that you can do it!!! Now I am going to do it!!! Good luck on your hike and you will do it!!!

    Reply
    • Erica Notini : Aug 17th

      Dan, That’s awesome! My thoughts go with you as you prepare and when you get out there! Sometimes the things that we are most afraid of are the things that we most need to do in order to grow as people. It’s crazy to think that at 70 you still have challenges to face, but that means life never gets old I suppose. Good luck to you!

      Reply
  • John : Aug 18th

    I love reading about people on the AT, especially Newbies and Solo-hikers. I am also inspired by those who are willing to move forward in spite of their fears and doubts. While I have never thru-hiked I love being on different segments of the AT in GA, NC and TN. I hope you will post a blog of some sort once you get going. I was in the Double Springs Gap shelter close to Clingman’s Dome earlier this summer. Someone had left a message that said “Don’t let your hiking ruin you hike”. As one of the previous posters said, make sure you take time to enjoy yourself.

    Reply
    • Erica Notini : Aug 26th

      Thank you John! I will for sure be updating my blog throughout my hike.

      Reply

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